The Lawson Trio at the Cheltenham Contemporary Concerts Series

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Schubert, Powers, Panufnik, Frances-Hoad, Beethoven: The Lawson Trio (Fenella Humphries – violin, Rebecca Knight – cello, Annabelle Lawson – piano), Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham, 19.9.2012

Franz Schubert: Sonatensatz in B flat minor, D28
Anthony Powers: Piano Trio
Andrzej Panufnik: Piano Trio, Op 1
Cheryl Frances-Hoad: My Fleeting Angel
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Trio No 3 in C minor, Op 1 No. 3

The Lawson Trio are a young ensemble who appear to be protegées of the erstwhile Florestan Trio – which is an excellent recommendation. That they will be participating in the Park Lane Group recital series at the Wigmore Hall this season is an indication of their standing, and their playing of the Sonatensatz in B flat minor, composed by the young Schubert in the year his voice broke, which was full of freshness and vitality seemed to anticipate the composer’s future blossoming-forth.

The Trio are passionate advocates of contemporary music which made them ideal for this series of events organised by the innovative Cheltenham Contemporary Concerts. Anthony Powers’ Piano Trio started out as a short piece entitled Ghost which in an extended form became the  second movement of this work to which four further movements were added. The first movement was expressive and mysterious with the cello exploring its lower register and the violin soaring into the stratosphere. The second, based on the English folk song The Lover’s Ghost had a percussive opening followed by an eerie duet from the violin and cello which became more rhapsodic. There was a jagged, rhythmic restlessness in Ratcliffe Highway, but after a growling start from the cello in The Trees They Grow So High an atmosphere of calm emerged which was continued in the slow, quiet yearning of the finale. It was evident that the musicians have considerable empathy and feeling for this work.

Panufnik’s Piano Trio provided an interesting contrast. Originally composed when he was a student in Warsaw, this underwent considerable revisions in later years and comes over as a  very assured work which preserves its original youthfulness and sense of adventure. It begins with solo statements from each of the instruments which eventually come together in a nonchalant melody which goes through a variety of phases, both dramatic and contemplative, before returning to the more lyrical mood. The second movement has an elegiac quality and the playing was subdued and thoughtful throughout, but was quickly displaced by the bouncy exuberance of the finale which brought to mind the wit and humour of Poulenc.

Cheryl Frances-Hoad is in the news at present for her opera Amy’s Last Dive composed for Opera North. Her 2006 chamber work My Fleeting Angel is likewise strong on narration being inspired by The Wishing Box, a short story by Sylvia Plath about a couple with entirely different and incompatible dreamlives. The three movements are played without a break and the work starts with a slow duet for violin and cello while the skittish piano darts about at will. In the story the wife takes an overdose and returns to her own dream country to dance with a red-caped prince in a fascinating waltz finale full of brilliant and macabre effects. The Lawson Trio gave a most assured performance of this short, complex piece which proved enigmatic and disturbing.

It is always hazardous for a reviewer to pass judgement on a performance of a work he is hearing for the first time. Fortunately with Beethoven’s Piano Trio No. 3 I was on much more familiar ground, and was more than delighted with what I heard. Beethoven was using this composition as a  vehicle to show off not only his skills as a composer, but also his virtuosity as a pianist, and Annabelle Lawson showed in no small measure that she has what it takes to pull off the demanding piano part, ably aided and abetted by her two colleagues.

Finally I must compliment the three young ladies on their elegant appearance – long flowing dresses in co-ordinated pastel shades rather than the customary funereal black!

The Lawson Trio’s website is


Roger Jones